Anatomy of a Scandal
How Anthony Weiner and John Edwards lost control of their private parts.
In one of the routines from his heyday, Richard Pryor would enact the anguish experienced by a man who cannot get his male organ to rise. In this redefinition of the whole concept of standup, he ended by practically seizing the torpid member by the throat, howling plaintively, and demanding to know, "Whose dick is this?"
Comes now Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who might be described as a sitting member. His sad story is simply told and requires an answer to the same question. A 21-year-old female student, who follows the congressman's doings on Twitter, received an unsolicited photograph from that same account. It showed the genital area of a male, lightly draped in hybrid boxer briefs and apparently taken by the owner of the pudenda himself. Weiner denied all knowledge, suggesting that he was the victim of a hoax or prank. But he modestly declined to say whether he had any … connection to the subject matter. Indeed, since there are only two possible answers to the question, his nondenials had the doubtless unintended effect of a confirmation. "Stuff gets manipulated," as he told Rachel Maddow. "Maybe it started out as being a photograph of mine" that had been "taken out of context." With CNN's Wolf Blitzer he elaborated by saying, "I don't know what photographs are out there in the world of me." Continuing with his ill-advised choice of metaphor, he added, "I don't know what things have been manipulated." When Luke Russert inquired whether Weiner could suggest another possessor of the manipulated organ, he rather lamely replied that he "couldn't say with certitude" that it was somebody else's.
Pausing only to pity the poor penis, so shabbily half-disowned (does Weiner think it has no feelings at all; that it must conclude that its owner's right hand does not know what his left hand is doing?), we move to the week's other Democratic scandal. Former senator and potential presidential nominee John Edwards now admits that he financed the concealment of his mistress and his then-unborn child with generous funds given by a credulous centenarian named Rachel "Bunny" Mellon. But he denies that this was an improper diversion of money given to his campaign. As the New York Times summarized matters: "The Edwards defense is that the money was used not for political reasons but for personal reasons: he wanted to conceal the affair from his wife."
Almost as if the disclosure of a betrayal of that dying spouse would have had no effect on his political standing! If Edwards and his fellow-attorney and counsel Greg Craig believe that this will stand up in court, they are counting on a belief in "compartmentalization" that would have made the Clintons blush. Establishing this distinction without a difference will be complicated. The whole idea of special and confidential "Bunny money" was first evolved when she became upset by the publicity attending Edwards' hair-salon outlays. Why not in the future, said the dear old donor, simply bill her directly for such things, rather than the campaign? Again, we see an effort to distinguish between the politician and his body parts: You start off by treating the hair as a separate entity and end up by shelling out serious dough to someone who has been led astray only by his peccant pecker. Not since Chris Rock proposed that Jennifer Lopez's derriere have its own agent has the mind-body distinction been so crudely misused.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Anthony Weiner Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.